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'I get a fresh start': K Wil Lutz excited to reunite with HC Sean Payton in Denver

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Kicker Wil Lutz described his first practice with the Broncos as a "good first day."

Another fitting way to describe the past 24 hours could be 'busy.'

Lutz flew into Denver on Tuesday night and came to practice on Wednesday morning working off five hours of sleep, with no knowledge of what the practice schedule had in store. Lutz's practice included plenty of kicking, working alongside punter Riley Dixon and long snapper Mitchell Fraboni and a grueling initiation under the hot Denver sun: half-gassers to culminate the practice session. While he said the altitude doesn't impact his approach to kicking, it made him dig deeper for the end-of-practice cardio.

"I don't really think about the altitude when I'm kicking, but obviously I can feel that there's a difference," Lutz said. "… [The plan is to] just come up here and kick my 'A' ball and let the altitude do its thing. Definitely, those half-gassers at the end of practice were tough, though. I'm used to [playing] below sea level."

Acquired in a trade with the Saints, Lutz does have one constant from his time in New Orleans: a reunion with Head Coach Sean Payton, whom he kicked for during his first five seasons in the NFL.  

Lutz made 87.5 percent of his regular-season kicks from 2016-2019 and made the Pro Bowl in 2019. He also appeared in seven postseason games and converted 11 of his 15 attempts. 

"Coach [Payton], he tries to get the best out of everyone," Lutz said. "I truly feel like my best years were with him, because I was kind of scared to let him down. And I think that's how a leader is."

Lutz is aiming to rekindle that success in Denver after two discouraging seasons to finish his time in New Orleans. He missed the entirety of the 2021 season with a core injury and struggled to recapture his success last season, falling to a 74.2 percent field goal rate. 

The stretch included two surgeries in a three-month span, and Lutz said that the mental adjustment to game action and kicking in front of fans made his return more difficult.

"[In] 2022, no excuses. I didn't have a good year," Lutz said. "Mentally, I didn't feel like I was in the right space, [I] kind of felt like a rookie again after missing a year. … 2022 was my first time in front of fans in two years. So it was very eye-opening; I didn't handle it the right way. So I really spent the offseason working on fundamentals and working on getting to where I was before that."

During this offseason, Lutz competed with kicker Blake Grupe in the Saints' training camp and demonstrated the accuracy and skills that made him a Pro Bowl selection. Though Grupe won the competition, the Broncos were impressed with Lutz' strong performance and traded for the veteran kicker. 

Payton said that the Broncos kept tabs on kicking competitions around the league and ultimately decided to trade for Lutz once the Saints made their decision. Through training camp and the preseason, Denver auditioned Brett Maher and Elliott Fry for their kicker position.

"We knew the battle that was going on there [in New Orleans]," Payton said. "There were a few other teams — I think there four or five, that had two kickers. … We knew that he was having a really good camp and it was a tough decision."

Lutz is embracing his opportunity in Denver and said the Broncos have been one of his preferred destinations for a long time.

"I get a fresh start," Lutz said. "There's a silver lining to everything. I'm super excited to be here and I'd be lying if I didn't say this was one of my spots I was hoping I'd land. I kept an eye on it all year."

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